Tuesday, June 30, 2009


As Resolution Goes to a Vote, Labor-Community Coalition and Elected Officials to Call on NYC Council to Recognize Muslim School Holidays

Coalition Urges Council to Ensure Fairness for All NYC Students by Voting “Yes” on Resolution 1281

New York, NY On Tuesday, June 30, the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays (CMSH), a diverse group of more than 80 community, labor, civil rights, and religious organizations from throughout New York, will hold a news conference to call on the New York City Council to provide equal treatment and include two Muslim holidays in the New York City public school calendar. Elected officials, parents, students, union representatives, and coalition members will highlight the need for equality and religious freedom for New York’s diverse student body.

The press conference will precede a city council vote on the resolution, scheduled to take place later the same day. Recognition of the holidays in the school calendar will remove the unfair choice 1 in 8 NYC Public School students have to make between celebrating important religious holidays and their education.

WHEN: Tuesday, June 30, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Steps of City Hall, NYC
WHO: Robert Jackson, NYC Council Education Committee Chair, Affected students and parents, CAIR-NY Community Affairs Director Faiza N. Ali and other coalition members, Amina Rachman, Special Assistant to the President (UFT), Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer (32BJ SEIU), Imam Talib (Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood), Rabbi Weisser (Free Synagogue of Flushing), Reverend L’Heureux, Jr. (Queens Federation of Churches)

The Coalition for Muslim School Holidays is a broad inter-faith, inter-ethnic coalition of labor, community, civil rights and religious organizations as well as students, parents and educators.


Faiza N. Ali (CAIR-NY): 718-724-3041, 212-870-2002, fali@cair.com
Marjon Kashani: 415-317-7646, goldpeacock@hotmail.com
Isabel Bucaram: 718-683-2532, bucarami@gmail.com
Ben Hubbard, Associated Press, 6/29/09
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- In blockaded Gaza, even an American passport isn't a sure ticket to freedom. (Full article)
FOR BACKGROUND, SEE: CAIR Seeks Sponsors for Gaza Evacuees

J. Samia Mair, Baltimore Muslim Examiner, 6/28/09
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will hold a news conference on Tuesday, June 30 in Washington, D.C., announcing the launch of a major campaign to distribute free copies of the Quran to 100,000 local, state, and national leaders.
Over several years the "Share the Quran" campaign plans to distribute Qurans to governors, state attorney generals, educators, law enforcement officials, state and national legislators, local elected and public officials, media professionals, and other local or national leaders who determine policy or shape public opinion.
According to CAIR, the educational campaign was prompted by President Obama's speech in Cairo earlier this month in which he quoted the Quran several times. As posted here previously, the Cairo audience applauded loudly each time the Quran was quoted. (More)

Duke Helfand, Los Angeles Times, 6/29/09
American Muslims have never been much of a presence in the Los Angeles Police Department, accounting for less than 1% of its nearly 10,000 officers.
But now, with department leaders eager to improve relationships with local Muslims, top brass have named the force's first Islamic chaplain: a Pakistani-born spiritual leader who has spent much of the last decade trying to build bridges between law enforcement and Los Angeles County's diverse Muslim communities.
Sheik Qazi Asad, 47, will serve as a reserve chaplain at the LAPD's North Hollywood station. The volunteer post requires about eight hours of service each month. But to Asad and his LAPD patrons, it represents an opportunity to expose officers to a culture and faith that many may find unfamiliar, even foreign.
And that, Asad and LAPD leaders hope, will enhance relations that have been strained at times, particularly in the aftermath of a much-criticized plan by the department in 2007 to map the city's Muslim population. The plan, which some critics equated to religious profiling, was scrapped after a week of protests…
"The position needs someone who has the basic knowledge and skills to bring people together, especially someone who understands the culture and nature of law enforcement," said Hussam Ayloush, Southern California executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "I think Mr. Asad has such abilities." (More)

Fear that government might target donors leads to shift away from Islamic nonprofits, leaders say.
Sean Emery, Orange County Register, 6/28/09
Muslim leaders already angered by allegations of FBI spying in Orange County mosques are backing the ACLU's assertion that terrorism-financing laws have had a chilling effect on donations to Muslim charities.
The ACLU says the Treasury Department's expanded authority to investigate terrorism-financing links in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has given the agency "virtually unchecked power" to designate groups as terrorist organizations, creating what local leaders describe as a "climate of fear" in the Muslim community. (More)

Documentary highlights case of NY Muslim principal pressured to resign
(LOS ANGELES, CA, 6/29/09) - The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) is encouraging Americans to watch the documentary “Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech” when it premieres tonight at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on HBO.
The film, directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus, “examines the balancing act between protecting civil liberties and national security in a post-9/11 world, asking whether all speech is equally free,” according to HBO’s website.
SEE: Some Speech Is More Free Than Others (NY Times review)
Among the cases highlighted in the documentary is that of Debbie Almontaser, founder and principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in New York, who was reportedly forced to resign from her position after her efforts to provide the standard definition of the word “intifada” to a New York Post reporter.
CAIR-LA sent a letter to Garbus commending her on efforts to depict how free speech has been silenced repeatedly in the name of national security after the heinous 9/11 attacks.
SEE: CAIR-LA Letter to Filmmaker Liz Garbus
CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties organization, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
CONTACT: CAIR-LA Communications Manager Munira Syeda, 714-776-1847, info@losangeles.cair.com; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail: ihooper@cair.com; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, E-Mail: arubin@cair.com
Chris Casey, Greeley Tribune, 6/28/09
The solemn prayer goes up as the sun sinks into the late-summer horizon. The Muslim on bended knee gives deep reverence to Allah and will, to end more than 13 hours of fasting, take a bite of date and a sip of water.
The meatpacking plant, meanwhile, is a whir of around-the-clock machinery as workers chop and guide steer carcasses along hooks and conveyors. Production lines are no-nonsense places in a volume-oriented industry where profits ride on how fast each animal is slaughtered and packaged.
For a Muslim worker, despite how inhospitable a meatpacking plant is to prayer, the sundown homage must occur each day during Ramadan. Muslims don't eat or drink during daylight hours in the holy month, breaking the fast after sunset prayers.
“Prayer is a lot more crucial in the month of Ramadan,” said Nimaan Ali, a Somali and former employee of JBS USA in Greeley. “If you don't pray, you're basically fasting for no reason.”
The welter of Islamic faith versus industrial commerce flared at JBS USA last September when about 230 Muslim workers walked off the job for evening prayers. They said they hadn't got word that the company had pushed a previously agreed-to prayer time back 30 minutes. Some workers said supervisors locked them out of bathrooms and stopped them from using drinking fountains. (More)
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Chicago, two years ago began negotiations with JBS USA about providing prayer breaks for Muslims in its plants. CAIR's suggestions for breaks, both during Ramadan and the remainder of the year, include:
A change of the 30-minute “lunch” break during the second shift to an earlier time, allowing Muslim workers to pray during these times.
Move Muslim workers to a morning shift, where the issue of prayer breaks is less problematic.
Allow workers a short break to pray, such as when they go on permitted restroom breaks.
Giuseppe Valiante, National Post, 6/27/09
Mississauga -- Abousfian Abdelrazik raised his right arm and clenched his fist as he walked down the ramp outside the international arrival gates at Pearson International Airport Saturday afternoon.
His arrival ended six years in exile in Sudan, where he faced torture at the hands of Sudanese authorities, had several thwarted attempts to return and spent over a year stranded at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum.
About 40 supporters carrying signs that read, “we did it!” and “Oh Canada! Our home and Abdelrazik’s” chanted, “welcome home,” as he made his way toward them.
"I'm a very glad to be here; I'm very tired," said Mr. Abdelrazik, 47, who has been labeled a terrorist by the United States…
Ishann Gardee, executive director for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that while this is a victory for Mr. Abdelrazik, his trouble might not be over.
As he is still on the UN’s no fly-list, his assets and funds are frozen and anyone who assists Mr. Abdelrazik is liable to be charged.
“This is yet another case of alleged government complicity in the torture and detainment of a Canadian citizen abroad” said Mr. Gardee.
“The Canadian Muslim community is completely devastated at yet another case to become public like this.” (More)


Chris Sturgis, Times of Trenton, 6/29/09
SOUTH BRUNSWICK -- Dalya Youssef wants her son, Yousuf Abdelfatah, to feel more confident about practicing the Islamic faith than she did when she attended public schools.
The Franklin Township mother, who is also a lawyer, remembered feeling timid about doing her midday prayer ritual in school when she was growing up in Monroe Township. (More)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Azadeh Shahshahani, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 6/24/09

I have been watching with interest and apprehension the movement reverberating in my birthplace over the past few weeks. The cries of “Azadi” by the people who have poured out in the tens of thousands into the streets of Iran to demand greater freedom have defied the distance between us.

I was born in Iran four days after the 1979 revolution. My name, Azadeh, means free-spirited, signifying the great hopes that my parents and the many other parents who named their daughters Azadeh that year bore for the revolution.

Their hopes were soon dashed, however, as the oppressive regime of the shah was replaced by a theocracy where rules governed every aspect of people’s lives in public, and even private, spaces.

In this system, advancement in professional and especially official ranks depends in part on the extent to which one chooses to profess religiosity, as dictated by the regime.

With this background, one of the freedoms that was most appealing to me when I came to the United States at age 16 was the right, free from governmental interference, to practice religion — or no religion at all.

I learned that this right is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In my trips back to visit family and friends, I often boasted about the guarantee of religious freedom in the United States.

This fundamental right has been increasingly denied, however, to Muslim-Americans in the years after Sept. 11, tarnishing America’s reputation as a beacon of religious freedom.

Last week, the ACLU released a report demonstrating how American Muslims’ right to practice zakat, or charitable giving, has been violated…

Closer to home, I recently joined Lisa Valentine and her husband before the Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness in the Courts.

Valentine testified about the experience she faced at a Douglasville courthouse, where she was made to choose between her right to free exercise of religion and her right to access the court. (More)

[Azadeh Shahshahani is the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project director for the ACLU of Georgia.]


Will Potter, 6/24/09

The government is using secretive prison facilities on U.S. soil, called Communication Management Units, to house inmates accused of being tied to “terrorism” groups. They overwhelmingly include Muslim inmates, along with at least two animal rights and environmental activists.

Little information is available about the secretive facilities and the prisoners housed there. However, through interviews with attorneys, family members, and a current prisoner, it is clear that these units have been created not for violent and dangerous “terrorists,” but for political cases that the government would like to keep out of the public spotlight and out of the press.


In April of 2006, the Department of Justice proposed a new set of rules to restrict the communication of “terrorist” inmates. The proposal did not make it far, though: during the required public comment period, the ACLU and other civil rights groups raised Constitutional concerns. The program was too sweeping, they said, and it could wrap up non-terrorists and those not even convicted of a crime.

The Bureau of Prisons dropped the proposal. Or so it seemed. Just a few months later, a similar program (now called the Communication Management Unit, or CMU), was quietly opened by the Justice Department at Terre Haute, Ind.

Then, in May of 2008, a handful of inmates were moved, without warning, to what is believed to be the second CMU in the country, at Marion, Il.

Both CMUs are “self-contained” housing units, according to prison documents, for prisoners who “require increased monitoring of communication” in order to “protect the public.”…

For many inmates in federal prisons, phone calls, mail and visits are flecks of light in the darkness. Virtually eliminating all contact with family, friends and the outside world can have a devastating psychological impact on prisoners, and raises serious concerns about basic human rights. (More)


Charles Wilson, Associated Press, 6/23/09

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two Muslim inmates held in a special unit at the federal prison in Terre Haute say they aren't allowed to pray in groups as often as their religion commands... (More)


Joel Davidson, Catholic Anchor, 6/24/2009

Anchorage, AK (Catholic Anchor) At the end of this month, Father Leo Walsh heads to Washington, D.C. to begin a new job that deals with some of the roots of age-old human conflicts.

Born, raised and ordained to the priesthood in Alaska, Father Walsh will leave his home state to work for at least three years with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where his primary task will be to facilitate greater understanding between Catholics and Muslims across the country.

Setting the table

As associate director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Father Walsh will do much of the legwork in bringing religious leaders together to address issues, both theological and practical.

Those dialogues will generally include bishops, academic experts and prominent Muslim leaders. The aim of the gatherings is to foster mutual understanding and find areas where greater unity and cooperation are possible.

“It is important for us to be in dialogue,” Father Walsh explained in an interview with the Anchor. “We’ve seen what happens when those prejudices and antagonisms are allowed to run unchecked.”

For example, Father Walsh pointed to the mischaracterization of Islam that occurs when memories of the September 11, 2001 attacks are the primary perception that people have of the religion.

“Dialogue is especially important because of how skittish people are today,” Father Walsh said. “Most people, you talk to them about Islam and they are going to mention 9/11 somewhere within the first three minutes of the conversation because that is the image in their mind. And believe me, it is the image in the Muslim’s mind too. They live with that every day.” (More)


11-year-old beaten twice at Los Alamitos middle school says he is ridiculed for being Persian
Jaimee Lynn Fletcher, Orange County Register, 6/24/09

LOS ALAMITOS The mother of an 11-year-old alleges the Los Alamitos Unified School District ignored her pleas to discipline a group of bullies she says beat up her son on at least two occasions, leaving the 6th grader with a concussion, bruises and scratches.

School officials say they always examine claims of bullying and conduct extensive investigations.

Violet Fard said she is desperate for help after multiple attempts appealing to Oak Middle School officials and the district to stop the attacks on her son, Bernard Ramin.

"I don't know where else to turn," Fard said. "Nobody will help me."

While district officials said they cannot talk about specific cases because the children involved are minors, Assistant Superintendent Sherry Kropp said bullying issues are never ignored.

"I am not ignoring any parent and we are investigating all claims of bullying," Kropp said. "We certainly, as a district, take bullying extremely seriously and we have a long-standing record of discipline (in these cases)."

Fard said her son has been the victim of relentless attacks by a group of bullies at Oak Middle School. They steal her son's school supplies and physical education clothes, tease him and push him around, she said. (More)



(SAN ANTONIO, TX, 6/24/09) - The San Antonio chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-SA) recently participated in the celebration of World Refugee Day at the St. Francis Episcopal Church on Blumel.

Local Muslims & Friends Celebrate World Refugee Day, 6-20

CAIR-SA President Sarwat Husain talked about "Know Your Rights" and the "Welcome to United States: A Welcome Guide for New Immigrants" and distributed about 100 copies of the material.

Some 300 refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Cambodia, and nations attended the event.

The material distributed by CAIR-SA was in the English, Somali and Arabic languages.

CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.



(TAMPA, FL, 6/23/09) - The Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Tampa) today offered its condolences to the family of Phyllis Busansky, Hillsborough County’s supervisor of elections. Busansky passed away from natural causes earlier this morning in St. Augustine, FL.

Ramzy Kiliç, executive director of CAIR-Tampa said: “We are saddened by the sudden loss of an honest public servant and leader in Phyllis Busansky. She will be missed and remembered for her confidence, work ethic and positive changes she brought during her brief time in office.”

Kiliç added: “Busansky reached out to the American Muslim community of Hillsborough County during her campaign, when she shared her vision and platform for the office of Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. Tonight, our community reaches out to the Busansky family with our prayers and condolences.”

SEE: Supervisor of Elections Office Announces the Passing of Supervisor of Elections Phyllis Busansky (Supervisor of Elections Hillsborough County)
SEE: Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Phyllis Busansky Dies (St. Petersburg Times)

CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CONTACT: CAIR Tampa Executive Director Ramzy Kiliç, 813-486-2529, E-Mail: rkilic@cair.com


Daniel Pipes, Jerusalem Post, 6/24/09

The other protest took place in a vast exhibition hall just north of Paris, where the largest and best organized Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq or the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (MeK or PMOI) joined with smaller groups to hold their annual meeting. Tens of thousands attended it, including me…

The MEK mounted an impressive display in France, as it did at the last meeting I attended, in 2007, with dignitaries, made-for-television pageantry, and a powerful speech by its leader, Maryam Rajavi. (More)


MEK on State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Monday, June 22, 2009

The growing controversy over military chaplains using the armed forces to spread the Word.
Kathryn Joyce, Newsweek, 6/19/09

Ever since former president George W. Bush referred to the war on terror as a “crusade” in the days after the September 11 attacks, many have charged that the United States was conducting a holy war, pitting a Christian America against the Muslim world.

That perception grew as prominent military leaders such as Lt. Gen. William Boykin described the wars in evangelical terms, casting the U.S. military as the "army of God."

Although President Obama addressed the Muslim world this month in an attempt to undo the Bush administration's legacy of militant Christian rhetoric that often antagonized Muslim countries, several recent stories have framed the issue as a wider problem of an evangelical military culture that sees spreading Christianity as part of its mission…

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says it's "counterproductive to the interests of our military to have officers or servicepeople proselytizing. It should be addressed at the highest levels of the military." Hooper says that while he can't say whether events such as these constitute a systematic problem in the military, "we've certainly seen enough incidents for it to be a concern." (More)


David N. Goodman, Associated Press, 6/18/09


An official of the Council of American-Islamic Relations said Arabic Christian Perspective was asking for special treatment.

"They should abide by the rules and purchase a booth like the other religious groups," saidDawud Walid, executive director of the group's Michigan chapter. "Christians can talk about Christianity and Muslims can promote Islam. This is the right we have as Americans." (More)


Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly, 6/18/09

I thought I recognized the name Arab Christian Perspectives when I read this Orange County Register story about how the group recently filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking access to proselytize outside an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan. In 2004, I did a story about Christians who tried to convince Muslims outside the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove to leave their faith and join Christ. Among the groups? The Arabic Christian Education Center in Anaheim, which hosted seminars under Arabic Christian Perspectives preaching the evils of Islam. (More)


Amisha Padnani, Staten Island Advance, 6/18/09

It's not easy having to choose between religion and education. Some would even say it's not fair.

But for those people whose religious holidays aren't recognized by the public school system, that's the choice they have to make.

Yesterday, the City Council's Education Committee advocated to eliminate that dilemma -- at least for Muslim families. The committee passed a resolution that would call upon the city Department of Education to incorporate two major Muslim holidays into the school calendar. The committee has also been pushing for the introduction of a state law that would require schools to close on those two days.

The 10-1 vote, with Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) voting no, came with concerns from some council members that giving children two more days off would negatively impact their education. Some said they were voting in favor with the hope that the school calendar would be extended so students wouldn't lose out on classroom time. (More)


Farheen Hakeem, Star Tribune, 6/19/09

Omar Jamal, Executive Director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, is the go-to guy for media coverage of Somalis in Minnesota. But does he really speak for Minnesota’s Somali community?

Last week, Jamal participated in a protest accusing Minnesota’s only Muslim civil rights organization, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) of impeding an investigation into the missing Somali youth. The protest was organized by Abdirizak Bihi, Jamal’s colleague and an uncle of Burhan Hassan, one of the missing Somali young men.

I, unfortunately, know Bihi all too well. When I ran for Mayor of Minneapolis, I caught Bihi, who was working for McLaughlin’s campaign, running around the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood telling Somalis not to vote for me because “she is a lesbian.” This didn’t damage my campaign because I actually received more votes. It did however completely kill my romantic life (don’t get me started). I know who I am so I could care less of others’ opinion of my sexuality, but I was appalled that Bihi would use hate toward the GLBT community to gain political power.

Not surprisingly, Bihi’s irresponsible tactics against the Somali community have also found their way into the media. In a WCCO interview, Bihi said, “They [Abuubakar Islamic Center] curse us [Burhan’s family]. Call us infidels, because simply we spoke up for our son…Now we can say yes, that they do have something to do with it because they're always acting out in a sinister way."

The FBI hasn’t indicted anyone in the disappearance of the missing men, yet Bihi offered conjecture and speculation that the mosque is involved. He also accused the mosque of a hit job on his nephew simply because he feels they are “always acting out in a sinister way.” The question is: where are the facts?

Bihi is, according to Somali community leaders that I know, not representing their views. The Somali community’s lack of engagement with the media allows Jamal and Bihi to run amok spewing allegations that only harm the Somali community. These self-proclaimed leaders cannot differentiate feelings and conjecture from facts. Their accusations are inconsistent and personal.

Jamal and Bihi alleged that CAIR-MN is ‘impeding the FBI’s investigation’ by informing the Somali community of their right to remain silent and have an attorney present when questioned by federal law enforcement. This attempt to intimidate and shame the Somalis into giving up their constitutional rights is atrocious. Having an attorney present to avoid unfair prosecution is reasonable and responsible behavior, especially for individuals who already fear law enforcement due to negative experiences they’ve had in their homeland.

According to a February 2009 Minnesota Public Radio story, “Rights groups say Somalis being stopped, questioned,” a CAIR-MN representative told the story of a Somali man stopped by agents while walking and invited into a car for questioning: "There was one agent sitting in the front seat and another agent in the back seat….he was bombarded with questions. He just answered "no" to everything. He was just so scared.”

Lying to federal law officials, even if you’re scared, is a felony. This man needed to invoke his right to remain silent and have an attorney present. It would ensure him to understand his rights, and to be comfortable to answer the questions truthfully. This process builds trust and nurtures Somalis to engage the greater community instead of hiding in fear. No one should be ashamed or ostracized for asking for an attorney, especially when it’s their constitutional right.

According to CAIR-MN’s publication, ‘Know Your Rights and Responsibilities as an American Muslim”: “American Muslims strongly support law enforcement and the protection of our national security…..If you know of any criminal activity taking place in your community, it is both your religious and civic duty to immediately report such activity to local and federal law enforcement agencies.”

CAIR-MN has been offering trainings in the Somali community long before the Somali youth disappeared. The trainings are offered by both Muslim and non-Muslim attorneys (including law professors). The information CAIR-MN is sharing with the community is no different than theinformation offered by the ACLU.

Bihi and Jamal definitely have a right to speak for themselves, but speaking for the thousands of Somalis in Minnesota will warrant questioning of their intent, credibility and integrity. They must be held accountable to their statements. The protest against the civil rights group received media coverage. The Star Tribune’s headline read, “Somalis take to the street to protest group's actions.” Did the protest really represent the Somali community?

According to a press conference the following Saturday, organized by over a dozen local Somali organizations, it did not. The Somali organization leaders asserted that the vast majority of the individuals protesting last week were the elderly with limited English skills. When approached by Somali leaders afterwards, they stated that they were told to protest against an “anti-Somali group.” When asked, most did not know the name of that group they were protesting. (More)


Timothy O'Connor and Hoa Nguyen, Journal News, 6/19/09

Desperate for money and wooed by a man offering cash and favors, the men accused of trying to blow up two temples and other terrorist activities had little choice but to go along with the plot, the family of three of the four men said last night at a forum sponsored by supporters…

Last night, David Williams' mother and aunt, Cromitie's fiancee and Onta Williams' girlfriend appeared at the headquarters of WESPAC Foundation, a social justice organization, to talk about how their lives have been affected. Family members and friends of the accused men have labeled the case entrapment in the wake of their arrests on May 20 in the Bronx by FBI agents and New York City police.

The four were described as reluctant participants in the plot who had no interest in bombing temples or harming people but because they were desperate for money went along with a man who was relentless in his recruitment of them, family members said. The man had been coming to the Newburgh mosque - where two of the accused occasionally attended Friday prayers - offering $25,000 to worshippers to join in some undertaking and talking about jihad, Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, head imam at the mosque has said. The man turned out to to have been an FBI informant. (More)


Star-Ledger Editorial Board, 6/19/09

A federal court has been asked to decide whether Essex County discriminated against Yvette Beshier, a Muslim corrections officer, when it fired her for refusing to remove her head scarf.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week accusing the county Department of Corrections of wrongfully dismissing Beshier. She had been suspended and later given the sack for wearing a khimar, a Muslim head covering, on the job. Corrections officials said it violated the department's uniform policy.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the job on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. It also requires that employers make "reasonable accommodation" for religious practices. But when Beshier asked officials to make an exception to the uniform policy to allow her to follow her religious beliefs, they refused. (More)


Prisoners Unfairly Assigned To Draconian Units Government Claims Are For Terrorists
ACLU, 6/18/09

TERRE HAUTE, Ind., June 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Indiana today filed a legal complaint challenging the unprecedented and secret creation of housing units inside federal prisons in which prisoners are condemned to live in stark isolation from the outside world. Called Communication Management Units (CMUs) and designed to house prisoners viewed by the government as terrorists, they were established in violation of federal laws requiring public scrutiny and today are disproportionately inhabited by Muslim prisoners - many of whom have never been convicted of terrorism-related crimes.

The complaint, which names as defendants U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder and two senior Bureau of Prisons officials, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of Sabri Benkahla, an American citizen confined in the CMU at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana despite being found not guilty by a federal judge in 2004 of providing support to the Taliban.

"The government created CMUs without any opportunity for public comment or oversight in an effort to skirt obligations of accountability and transparency," said David Shapiro, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. "And after inventing these units behind closed doors, prison officials arbitrarily assigned prisoners to them without providing prisoners any real ability to challenge their placement there." (More)


Uri Blau, Haaretz, 6/19/09

Forty-three seconds: that's the duration of a video clip uploaded to YouTube less than a year ago under the category of "Comedy."

For the "hero" of the clip, an unidentified young Arab, they were probably eternally long seconds and far from amusing. He was forced to slap himself and sing to the jubilant shouts of the photographer and his buddies - all of them members of Israel's Border Police.

This clip, which has been viewed more than 2,800 times, shows the unknown Palestinian standing in a desert setting while a disembodied voice orders him in Hebrew to hit himself: "Yallah, start, do it hard!"

The viewers hear the chuckles of the other policemen and a clear voice telling the Arab: "Say 'Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul' ["I love the Border Police? in a mix of Arabic and Hebrew]. Say it!"

They see him obey in a subdued voice and with a frightened look, even as he goes on slapping himself. They hear the "director" laughing and the faceless voice shouting: "Again! Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul."

After a little more than 30 seconds, the voice says, "Say 'Wahad hummus wahad ful'" - and the Arab man obeys and then is told to complete the rhyme: "Ana behibak Mishmar Hagvul."

After 40 seconds, the abusers appear to have had enough and the voice impatiently orders the victim: "Yallah, rukh, rukh, rukh" ("go"). The camera turns and for a fraction of a second a Border Police Jeep is visible.

A few dozen viewers sent comments. "Hahahaha, it was great the way he excruciated himself." Another added: "That's how it should be!!!!! Stinking Arab."

And a third pointed out, "He should have been shot!! Sons of bitches." A few viewers took pity on the victim, though with reservations. One person remarked, "Mercy on the guy, even if he's an Arab. What's it in aid of? He didn?'t do anything." (More)


A special political vocabulary prevents us from being able to recognize what's going on in the
Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles Times, 6/19/09

On Sunday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech that -- by categorically ruling out the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state -- ought to have been seen as a mortal blow to the quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Monday morning, however, newspaper headlines across the United States announced that Netanyahu had endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, and the White House welcomed the speech as "an important step forward."

Reality can be so easily stood on its head when it comes to Israel because the misreading of Israeli declarations is a long-established practice among commentators and journalists in the United States.

In fact, a special vocabulary has been developed for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the United States. It filters and structures the way in which developing stories are misread here, making it difficult for readers to fully grasp the nature of those stories -- and maybe even for journalists to think critically about what they write.

The ultimate effect of this special vocabulary is to make it possible for Americans to accept and even endorse in Israel what they would reject out of hand in any other country.

Let me give a classic example.

In the U.S., discussion of Palestinian politicians and political movements often relies on a spectrum running from "extreme" to "moderate." The latter sounds appealing; the former clearly applies to those who must be -- must they not? -- beyond the pale. But hardly anyone relying on such terms pauses to ask what they mean. According to whose standard are these manifestly subjective labels assigned?

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians are labeled according to an altogether different standard: They are "doves" or "hawks." Unlike the terms reserved for Palestinians, there's nothing inherently negative about either of those avian terms.

So why is no Palestinian leader referred to here as a "hawk"? Why are Israeli politicians rarely labeled "extremists"? Or, for that matter, "militants"?

There are countless other examples of these linguistic double standards. American media outlets routinely use the deracinating and deliberately obfuscating term "Israeli Arabs" to refer to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite the fact that they call themselves -- and are -- Palestinian.

Similarly, Israeli housing units built in the occupied territories in contravention of international law are always called "settlements" or even "neighborhoods" rather than what they are: "colonies." That word may be harsh on the ears, but it's far more accurate ("a body of people who settle in a new locality, forming a community subject to or connected with their parent state").

These subtle distinctions make a huge difference. Unconsciously absorbed, such terms frame the way people and events are viewed. When it comes to Israel, we seem to reach for a dictionary that applies to no one else, to give a pass to actions or statements that would be condemned in any other quarter. (More)

[Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. He is the author of, among other books, "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation."]

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

WASHINGTON – A leading civil rights coalition says there has been an increase in white supremacist activity since the election of the first African-American president.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stephanie Strom, New York Times, 6/15/09

The fight against terrorism has dealt a harsh blow to Muslim charities and interfered with their donors’ religious freedom, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union concludes.

The report says statutes that it describes as overly broad and enforced in a discriminatory manner, coupled with a lack of due process, have starved Islamic charities of money and impeded Muslims’ ability to fulfill zakat, their religious requirement to make charitable donations.

The report is based on interviews with more than 100 Muslim community leaders as well as experts on antiterrorism laws and regulations. Though it gives no estimate of the decline in donations to Muslim groups, it says a total of nine Islamic charities have closed as a result of government action against them since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That action ranges, it says, from declaring a group to be under investigation to designating it a terrorist organization and freezing its assets.

“While there is a legitimate concern about the use of charitable funds to finance terrorism, it does not outweigh the rights of American Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations or override constitutional requirements for due process,” said the author, Jennifer Turner, the A.C.L.U.’s human rights researcher.

President Obama mentioned the issue in his speech in Cairo this month. “In the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation,” Mr. Obama said. “That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.” (More)



Video Shows How Terrorist Finance Laws Alienate American Muslims And Chill Religious Practice Of Charitable Giving

Click here to watch the video.

NEW YORK, June 16, 2009 /PRNewswire/ — A new video from the American Civil Liberties Union, "Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity," shows how terrorism finance laws have created a climate of fear that hurts the ability of American Muslims to freely practice their religion through charitable giving.

The video accompanies an ACLU report by the same name. The report is based on interviews with 115 Muslim community leaders and American Muslims who say would-be donors are intimidated by laws that allow the use of secret evidence and non-transparent procedures to punish innocent giving and shut down legitimate charities. This hinders the ability of Muslims to practice Zakat, the religious practice of charitable giving, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Observant Muslims are obligated to give, but some fear a visit from the FBI every time they write a check to charity. (More)


Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR, 6/16/09

Click here to listen to the story.

President Obama is already popular among Muslims in the U.S., but one reference in a recent speech made many hearts swoon.

"Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together," he told an audience in Cairo. "Rules on charitable giving made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat."

The idea behind zakat is this: If every Muslim gives 2.5 percent of his savings to the poor, that will go a long way toward eradicating poverty. Imam Mohamed Magid at the ADAMS Center, a large mosque in Virginia, says that's why zakat is one of the five pillars, or obligations, of Islam.

"It's a really big deal," he says. "A Muslim will not be able to fulfill his religious obligations and be fully a Muslim without fulfilling zakat."

But how do you do that without running afoul of the law? With some difficulty, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Researcher Jennifer Turner says she interviewed more than 100 Muslims in Michigan and Texas to see what happened to them after they donated money to large Muslim charities working abroad.

"Donors and their lawyers told me that FBI agents were knocking on donors' doors at home and at their workplaces to interrogate them about their donations," she says, "asking questions like, 'Did you write a check to a charity?' or, 'What do you know about that charity?' "

After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government suspected that some Muslim charities were funneling donations to terrorist groups like al-Qaida. Under the regulations, anyone who gives to one of those charities — even if he did so before the charity came under suspicion — could be accused of giving material support to terrorists.

This has made Ashraf Sabrin, who worships at the ADAMS Center, a little nervous. Each year, he spends hours researching charitable organizations, poring over the biographies of the officers and records filed with the government for any hint of wrongdoing.

"It's a lot of work," he says. "And I bet most people don't want to go through all of that. And I bet most people say, 'Allah knows my intentions, but I can't give because maybe three years from now, someone will be investigated and my donation will be scrutinized in some way.' "

Sabrin and others say there's another problem: So far, the U.S. has frozen $20 million in assets from seven large Muslim charities. Money that was supposed to go to the destitute sits in a government bank account.

For years, Muslim leaders have asked the Treasury Department for a "white list" that offers guidance on which charities are safe to give to. (More)


William F. O'Brien, The Edmond Sun, 6/15/09

In a meeting that took place in the spring of 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked his French counterpart, Charles De Gaulle, if he thought that then-British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was a great man.

De Gaulle replied that he thought Macmillan was in fact a great man, and pointed out to Kennedy that Macmillan, like Winston Churchill, had an American mother.

The French president went on to say that the truly great leaders of England are not totally English, and reminded Kennedy that Benjamin Disraeli was the grandson of Iberian Jewish immigrants, that William Gladstone was a full-blooded Scot, and that David Lloyd George was Welsh and began his political career as a Welsh nationalist.

Harold Macmillan is perhaps best known today for a speech that University of Oklahoma President David Boren referenced in his recent book “Letter To America” that has become known as the “Winds of Change” speech.

That address was delivered by Macmillan in April of 1960 to the South African Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. The British prime minister had spent the previous month traveling through British colonies in Africa that were in the process of receiving their independence. The majority of the members of South African parliament on that day were members of the National Party of South Africa, which had won control of that body in 1948 and imposed a policy of Apartheid that was intent on denying the black majority of that nation any role in its governance. Macmillan told them: “The winds of change are blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, the growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

Macmillan went on to suggest that South Africa should begin the process of granting political rights to its African majority. The assembled parliamentarians listened in stony silence and South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd delivered an angry rebuttal to the speech.

But in 1994, after South Africa had its first election that blacks were allowed to participate in, it was said that if Macmillan’s advice had been heeded much turmoil and violence could have been avoided.

And the speech that was delivered earlier this month at the other end of the African continent in Cairo, Egypt, by President Barack Obama, also may be of historical importance.

Obama told the Muslim world that “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.” He also spoke of Islam’s contributions to Western civilization and referenced the Koran that Thomas Jefferson kept in his library. He told his listeners of the contributions made by Muslims in the United States to American society. That statement was greatly appreciated by the Oklahoma City area Muslim community, said Razi Hashmi of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Obama also reaffirmed America’s commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state, and also spoke about Israel’s right to exist in peace with its Arab neighbors. But the president criticized the Arab world for its overall poor performance in the fields of human rights, education and economic development. He also decried the support for extremism that is found in some Arab states. The president chose to end his oration with quotes from the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible, which served to emphasize the similarities among those three faiths.

Future historians may conclude that his doing so caused people of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths in time to realize that what united them greatly exceeded the things that divided them.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.



Click here to watch the video.


David Skolnick, The Vindicator, 6/16/09

An assistant city prosecutor, who is Muslim, filed a federal lawsuit against the city, the mayor, law director, city prosecutor and co-workers, claiming discrimination and retaliation.

The suit also claims the defendants made a concerted effort to keep him from practicing his religious beliefs.

The city strongly denies the claims made by Atty. Bassil Ally, who’s worked for more than six years for the city, said Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello.

“Mr. Ally was not discriminated against because of his religion or his religious beliefs,” Guglucello said. “His lawsuit is baseless. Mr. Ally has been accommodated for many, many years by the city to practice his religious beliefs. The city is adamant it does not discriminate against anyone.”

Ally attends weekly prayer services at his mosque about 1:30 p.m. each Friday as required by his religion, according to his lawsuit filed by Daniel M. Connell, his Cleveland-based attorney.

The city accommodated the request to worship on Friday afternoons until the end of 2007, when co-workers complained to city Prosecutor Jay Macejko that Ally “was receiving preferential treatment,” the lawsuit reads.

“Ally was also subjected to comments regarding his religion and/or national origin” by co-workers, according to the lawsuit.

The issue escalated and on Jan. 11, 2008, the lawsuit contends, Macejko scheduled a staff meeting to discuss the problem on a Friday afternoon conflicting with Ally’s attendance at his mosque services.

“Despite these obvious threats to his job and livelihood, Mr. Ally chose to attend his Friday religious service,” Connell wrote in the lawsuit.

That led to Macejko firing Ally, who earns $61,620 annually as an assistant prosecutor. Guglucello sent a letter three days later putting him on administrative leave, according to the lawsuit. (More)


Khuram Hussain, Watertown Daily Times, 6/16/09

I first want to commend the Watertown Daily Times for their balanced coverage of the recent sign controversy. Whatever view you take on the issue, one thing is certain: Muslim Americans are now a part of the public conversation.

For several years now, much of the national conversation on Muslims has centered on partisan politics with conservative pundits denouncing liberals as apologists who would rather promote "political correctness" than national security and liberal pundits volleying accusations of racism and intolerance among conservatives.

In this often noisy, back and forth, have you noticed a remarkably absent voice? I have. I'm talking about Muslim Americans who are often talked about but less often talked to. This is strange to find in a democracy that prides itself on deliberation between citizens as means of obtaining understanding and consensus. How can we have an honest and realistic conversation, unless everyone is invited to the table?

Some believe that the controversy was the result of a misunderstanding between two parties. Perhaps. It certainly would have saved everyone involved some steam if we had started with some common ground. We see plenty of common ground when we consider the civic commitment of Muslim Americans.

I've already seen a lifetime's worth. I have attended the funeral of a Muslim American, off-duty emergency medical technician who was killed when he voluntarily joined a response team that rushed into one of the burning Twin Towers on Sept. 11.

I have attended an induction ceremony of a Muslim American, third-generation Marine; I have watched Muslim American youth participate in politics supporting Republican, Democratic and independent candidates and myself worked with Army reservists in Mattydale as they prepared for deployment to Iraq. These stories are the tip of the iceberg of a sustained Muslim commitment to American life in every line of service.

We deny reality and dishonor the commitments of Muslim Americans when talk about Muslims without talking to Muslims. The diversity of the north country makes this absolutely unnecessary. We don't need to watch TV or go online to find definitions of Muslim Americans.

Muslims of every stripe live and work at the base, the city and the surrounding villages and are capable of expressing their views without a pundit's help. If something good is to come out of the events, I hope and pray it is some good old-fashioned civil discourse with all our neighbors.

Khuram Hussain


Scrolling message no longer slams Obama
Joanna Richards, Watertown Daily Times, 6/12/09

The Iron Block Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership removed a controversial scrolling message from its digital sign Thursday at the insistence of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co., based in Milwaukee.

The message, "Obama, are you kidding? We're not Muslim. You are not Christian!!" came down at the 10 a.m. deadline set by the company's attorneys, according to Claudia Dunk, wife of owner Erik J. Dunk. Mrs. Dunk works at the store.

The message referred to President Barack Obama's comment to a reporter in advance of his Middle East trip that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. ... And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples."…

Khuram Hussain, Syracuse, a Muslim and an education professor at William and Hobart Smith Colleges, Geneva, had complained about the message posted on the dealership's sign. He said when he saw the sign Friday evening, its message read, "Obama is not a Christian! He is a Muslim!!!" and it was that slogan that prompted his complaint to Harley-Davidson and to several area chambers of commerce. (More)


The newest Twin Cities mosque provides a nearby location for the Muslim population south of the Minnesota River.
Dean Spiros, Star Tribune, 6/16/09

Click here to watch the video.

A small sign rests on a table in the lobby of the new Burnsville mosque, offering a simple message:

(Welcome and be comfortable)

"We tell all people that it is their place as it is ours," said Amin Kader, one of the founders of the mosque. "When you say this is a mosque, you are saying this is the place of God. God's place is open to all of his children."

A look inside offered plenty of sights a churchgoer would recognize: a sign posted on a bulletin board asking for donations to pay for installing new carpet. Another serving as a reminder that the community room is open for weddings, birthdays and parties. A flier promoting an upcoming bake sale.

The weekly Friday afternoon group prayer demonstrated the customs of the Islamic faith. Worshipers removed their shoes before entering the prayer area, where they knelt on the carpet.

About 150 men, women and children attended the prayer, which was led in English. Whenever words were quoted from the Qur'an, they were spoken in Arabic, then translated…

The Burnsville mosque also filled another need by including a room, licensed by the state of Minnesota, that is used to prepare bodies for Muslim burial. (More)


Mohammed Mar’I, I Arab News, 6/16/09

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Arabs decried Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday outlining his vision of a Palestinian state as unacceptable while the United States and Europe gave their guarded approval of his accepting the idea of two states.

“The vision which the Israeli prime minister presented ... is flawed and lacks many elements and therefore requires substantial development to meet the level of international and Arab efforts for a just, permanent and comprehensive Middle East peace,” an Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that a call to recognize Israel as a Jewish state “increases the complexity of the matter (of achieving peace) and aborts the chance for peace.” In his speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize the Jewish nature of the state of Israel.

He also said Israel would accept a Palestinian state only if it is completely demilitarized. He ruled out the resettlement of Palestinian refugees within the borders of Israel and a halt to settlement construction in the occupied West Bank…

But the White House termed the address “an important step forward” for implementing President Barack Obama’s peace vision. The European Union described the speech as “a step in the right direction” but said it was not enough to raise EU-Israeli ties to a higher level. Nihad Awad, national executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that Netanyahu rejected Obama’s clear demand that Israel stop building illegal settlements.

“By placing more roadblocks in the path of peace, Netanyahu is only seeking to buy more time to expand the settlements and to strengthen Israel’s stranglehold on the Palestinian people,” Awad added. (More)